Posts Tagged With: Brush

Pedals to the Metal

The idea hit me somewhere between Last Chance and Brush, Colorado. The former used to be the last chance to get ice cream, but now it isn’t even that, just a place with a few houses and boarded-up buildings where travelers on north-south Highway 71 have to stop before they cross east-west Highway 36. Brush, on the other hand, is a perfect place for a mid-trip break. It has wide, tree-lined streets that make it a pleasant place for a walk, and there’s a restaurant on Main Street where in the past few years the owners and menus have changed three times but the low prices and tiny but clean bathrooms have stayed the same.

Anyway, the idea. Driving from South Dakota to New Mexico and back gives a person plenty of opportunities for thinking. Especially if you happen to be the one driving and your companion happens to be sleeping. This idea came to me on the second day of our recent trip home, as I was marching in place with my feet to restore the circulation in my legs and trying to turn the other cheek in a way that might relieve the numbness in portions of my posterior.

What this country needs is a new kind of hybrid car. One with pedals. Think Fred Flintstone, only high-tech.

Not being an automotive engineer, I’m a little vague on the details, but here’s the concept. Install foot pedals for both the driver and at least the front-seat passenger, rather like those stationary bike pedals you can put in front of your chair to use while you watch TV. Just hit the road, set the cruise control, and start pedaling like Lance Armstrong. Skip the performance-enhancing substances, please. The energy you produce would go to some sort of generator or battery and help operate the car.

The impact on your gas mileage probably wouldn’t be a lot, but at today’s prices every little bit would help. And the biggest benefit would be to your health. If you put the pedals to the metal fast enough, you might even burn sufficient calories to munch on classic road-trip food like sunflower seeds or corn nuts without guilt.

I suppose the argument could be made that this might distract the driver. But I don’t see that pedaling would be any more of a distraction than radio station surfing, listening to audio books, refereeing fights among the kids in the back seat, or moaning about your aching legs and backside.

The engineers would need to work out a few little details, like how to transfer energy from the pedals to the engine, and where to put the pedals, and whether they would need to be retractable, and how to easily adjust them for different-sized drivers. But, hey, solving little problems like that is exactly the kind of challenge that engineers love.

The hybrid pedal car, for better gas mileage and healthier traveling. It’s an idea whose time has come. And I’m sure an entrepreneur wanting to start a factory could get a great deal on a building in Last Chance, Colorado.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Good Day To Be Alive

Sunday was a good day, because we didn't die.

It happened not long after we had crossed the state line from Nebraska into Colorado. As always, I smiled at the incongruity of the plain brown sign reading "Welcome to Colorful Colorado." We were traveling south on Highway 71, about 30 miles north of Brush.

The cold January day was the first of our planned two-day trip from South Dakota to New Mexico. Visibility, under low clouds and light snow, was about half a mile. When we passed a newly built wind farm, the tall windmills loomed eerily out of the clouds and snow like landing towers for alien spacecraft.

The road was what the weather service would have probably described as "snow packed and slippery." Mindful of the conditions, we were driving at about 50 miles an hour.

Suddenly the rear wheels lost traction. The back of the car slued to the right, then to the left and back to the right. We slid sideways across the width of the road and into the left side ditch, bounced up a steep five- or six-foot bank, spun around without hitting the four-strand barbed wire fence at the top of the bank, and stopped. We were facing back toward the highway, with the nose of the car at the edge of a 10- or 12-foot dropoff.

At least that's how the driver explained it to me after the fact. At the time, all I knew was that one second I was twisted in my seat, rummaging for the bottle of V-8 juice on the floor behind me, and the next second my partner had shouted something like, "Hang on!" and we were sliding sideways. The car was jolting from side to side, all I could see was snow, my head thumped against the side window, my knee hit the front console, and my contact lenses were slipping sideways so I clamped my eyes shut to keep them in place. Then we were stopped, which felt wonderful until I looked out my window and saw how close we were to the edge of a steep bank.

We sat still for a few seconds, then asked each other, "Are you all right?" and decided we both were. We sat for a few moments more and watched our fingers shake as adrenaline flooded our bodies and gratitude flooded our minds. I said, with what seemed to me great calm, "We need to back very slowly away from the edge."

He answered, "Oh, I was just going to drive straight back down." I hoped he was trying to be funny. At any rate, he backed up, drove along the bank to a lower spot, and pulled back onto the highway.

Had the skid happened a few seconds later, we might have slid into the pickup that was approaching from the south. A few seconds earlier, we might have gone off the road at the top of a steep ditch and rolled. A couple of seconds longer, and we would have dived nose-first down the steep bank to the road below.

Those few seconds might have changed our lives forever or even ended them. They didn't. The particular arrangement of circumstances at that particular time and place didn't leave us jammed into a smashed SUV with crushed legs, battered faces, or fractured skulls. We were merely shaken, not shattered. Even our vehicle was left without a scratch or dent, though with a slight wobble about the right front wheel and a souvenir bunch of dry prairie grass caught in the back bumper.

We drove—slowly—on to Brush through the increasing snow and decreasing visibility. After eight or ten miles, our fingers had nearly stopped shaking. We checked ourselves into a motel. We went for a walk through the snow to exercise the adrenaline out of our systems.

The next morning, under frigid sunshine, we had the car checked and the wheels aligned. Then we drove on south, slowly, carefully, and gratefully.

It was a wonderful day to be alive.

Categories: Living Consciously, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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